Rules and Guidelines

In this document, we first present some general information about entering the aquascaping contest, details on how the aquascapes are judged, and specifics on each category: Aquatic Garden (normal aquascapes), Biotope Aquascape, Dutch Aquascape, Paludarium, Wabi-Kusa; and finally some rules on photographs and planting plans. Please read these guidelines before entering the contest. You may also wish to read the Frequently-Asked Questions.

General Entrance Guidelines

The AGA Aquascaping Contest is open for entry for 2-3 months in the latter half of the year, with results announced a few months later. Please check the showcase home for the exact dates for this year.

This event is primarily a friendly way for hobbyists to share their aquascaping efforts with each other, and to learn better techniques through the display and evaluation of those efforts. The contest will also allow hobbyists to compete for awards. The event is open to all hobbyists, regardless of age, national origin or degree of experience in the hobby.

The focus of the event is on Aquascaping in freshwater aquaria, brackish water aquaria and paludariums. Brackish and Marine aquaria will be acceptable in the Biotope category only.

Each aquascape is entered and judged in one (and only one) of the following categories:

All but one of the categories require that the aquascaper use live plants in their aquascape. The Biotope Aquascape category is reserved for aquariums that are attempting to recreate a particular natural environment, and as such will be judged accordingly. Biotopes may or may not include plants, but should be made of primarily natural materials.

Each aquascaper will need to:

  1. Complete a form with a small amount of personal information (including their real legal name, City and Country)
  2. Agree to the photo release (part of the above form)
  3. Supply basic information for each aquascape (maximum three aquascapes per aquascaper)
  4. Upload photographs (1-5 per aquascape)

A maximum of three (3) aquascapes may be entered per year per aquascaper, regardless of category. Attempts to enter more than three aquascapes using multiple accounts will result in immediate disqualification of all aquascapes.

Aquascapes from a previous year may be entered in this year's contest, but only new photographs taken this year may be used. Disqualified aquascapes may not be re-entered in subsequent years.

Aquascapers are forbidden to ask advice or show aquascape photos to members of the AGA Board of Directors or current contest judges. The first offense will result in a warning, and the second offense can result in disqualification of the aquascape. Continued attempts to contact the members of the AGA Board of Directors or judges will be considered an attempt to influence the aquascape's score and will result in banning the aquascaper from the contest for that calendar year.

Aquascapers are asked to not include personal identifying information in the aquascape information. This includes the title, descriptive text, and photographs. The contest committee reserves the right to remove such identifying information.

Further questions may be answered by the organizers at

Judging and Awards

Judging will be conducted with each aquascape identified only by number; i.e. the judges will not know the identity of the person whose aquascape they are considering. Judges do not communicate with each other when scoring each aquascape.

Within each category, each judge's ranking (not raw score) for the aquascapes will be harmonically averaged to determine the overall placing of aquascapes within the category. Awards (1st, 2nd and 3rd place) will be given to the three highest placed aquascapes. Overall placings 4~10 be acknowledged as "top ten" (presented in aquarium volume order, not placing order!). There is no ribbon or other physical award for top ten; it is a bragging rights award only.

After the winners are tabulated, the judges will also choose, by vote, a Best of Show Aquascape from the Aquatic Garden categories, and a Most Innovative Aquascape from all categories. They will communicate with each other over this decision.

Judges are asked provide feedback on the qualities of each aquascape in the contest. These comments will be placed on the website associated with the appropriate aquascapes. After the winners are announced, judges may be available (at their discretion) on the AGA Facebook group where aquascapers can post a photo and request commentary.

The decisions of the judges are final.

Aquatic Garden Categories

The vast majority of the aquascapes are entered in the Aquatic Garden categories. If the aquascaper is unsure which category is correct, it is very likely Aquatic Garden.

The Aquatic Garden category is further sub-divided by aquarium volume. The choice of how many divisions and precisely where the splits occur is based on participation and is up to the discretion of the judges and organizers.

There are four basic criteria that the judges consider when reviewing each aquascape:

Biotope Aquascape

A biotope is a habitat originating from a specific location. It has particular environmental characteristics specific to the area and a native population of plants and animals. A single stream or lake may include numerous biotopes. For instance, a stony riffle in a stream may be one biotope while a nearby silt-bottomed pool on the same stream may be a different biotope. On the other hand, the same biotope may occur in numerous streams in a region where all stony riffles or silt-bottomed pools support the same community of plants and animals.

In its purest form, the biotope aquascape is a microscopic representation of a naturally-occurring particular geographical area in the wild.

An aquascape that accurately represents a biotope through species selection and arrangement of hardscape and living elements will receive a higher score.

Rules for acceptable aquascapes in the AGA’s Aquascaping Contest Biotope Category:

An expert committee will screen submissions in the Biotope Category and accept those aquascapes that in its sole determination, follow these rules. The committee’s judgment will be final. If there are questions regarding the validity of the biotope aquascape, the committee may ask for justification.

Based on the criteria, to aid the screening process, we strongly suggest that the aquascaper provides the following information:

  1. A description of the biotope represented by the aquascape.
  2. A description of the materials used in the aquascape, including plants, fish, and hardscape materials. Include why certain choices were made.
  3. References to substantiate the appropriateness of the materials used. Books, articles, photos, and web links are all acceptable references.

If the committee rejects a submission because it does meet the Biotope guidelines, the AGA will automatically disqualify the aquascape.

After a Biotope aquascape has been approved by the screening committee, it will be judged by the AGA International Aquascaping Contest judging panel. Each judge will score the biotope based on the following criteria:

Dutch Category Judging Guidelines

new! Vin Kutty has written a quick style guide for beginners.

Overall Impression - maximum 50 points

Composition: Balance, Use of Space, Use of Color - maximum 60 points

Selection & Use of Plants, Hardscape Materials, and Animals - maximum 50 points

Viability of Aquascape - maximum 40 points



updated for 2022! A Wabi Kusa is a ball of compressed substrate that has been developed into an artistic interpretation of aquatic plants that are not contained by their vessel, but by a substrate ball where plants can freely grow from. On the other hand, a paludarium, is contained by the vessel, which can simply be filled with aquatic soils, where plants are allowed to grow. This is what separates the two styles of aquascaping and has been confused in past contests. Going forward in 2022, the judges will more heavily weigh a properly designed Wabi Kusa in the contest, however in future contests, the aquascaper will be required to show that the substrate ball was used in the design. For this year, we will use the criteria below for our contest:

  1. The Wabi Kusa must not include any terrestrial plants. All plants used must be aquatic plants that can be normally grown submersed and used in an aquarium. Use of marginal pond plants or terrarium/vivarium plants will result in immediate disqualification of the entry.
  2. The Wabi-Kusa must include a visible water portion as this is a contest for "aquatic" gardens.
  3. Wabi Kusa entries with clear use of a substrate ball will be judged with greater preference in the contest.

For the AGA Aquascaping contest, our criteria requires that the Wabi-Kusa must have a visible water portion as this is a contest for "aquatic" gardens and not a contest for terrariums or vivariums. Please read the rules carefully as judges will award points respective to the criteria categories listed below:


The short version:

The aquascaper is requested to provide 1 ~ 5 images of each aquascape, ideally showing both overall views and close-ups of details they wish to highlight.

While the focus of this event is on the aquascape shown in the images, the aquascaper is encouraged to try and provide the clearest, sharpest images possible. The better the images that are provided, the better they will reproduce and display. The website currently only accepts JPEG images, but there is no size or quality limit.

new for 2021! The aquascaper may alter an image only for color correction, lens and distortion correction, rotation, brightness, shadow/highlight, contrast and/or sharpness. HDR filtering is also permitted.

new for 2021! Any modification that effectively alters the content of original image is grounds for immediate disqualification. Such alterations include, but are not limited to:

new for 2021! In order for the contest to be fair to all aquascapers, we now require the upload of the camera original of the main photograph. The camera original will not be seen by the judges, only used to verify the authenticity of the final image. All aquascapers not submitting the camera original are subject to disqualification.

Many aquascapers feel the need to add large frame borders around their photographs; this detracts from the image, by making it scale smaller than others. In all likelihood, we will just remove the border. Please save us the work, and submit all images borderless.

Images submitted should not have the photographer's name or Copyright Notice superimposed over the image. Images should not include the aquascaper or other people in the picture (aka, a selfie). Judging needs to be anonymous, and this information could affect the impartial evaluation of aquascapes. We will add a copyright 'burn-in' in the final website.

When creating a planting plan, keep in mind that a blocky diagram works much better than something with thin lines, and high-resolution graphic is just as important as in the photographs. A simple sketch with a Sharpie pen on a piece of paper will look better on the final site than a bad MS-Paint graphic.

All aquascapers must agree to a Photo Release before their aquascapes will be accepted into the contest.

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